I’ve been quite a big fan of the Pokemon franchise since I was little, however as a child I didn’t play any of the games and instead was an anime-only fan of Pokemon. My first game in the franchise was Pokemon Let’s Go! Pikachu, a remaster of Pokemon Yellow, so I went into Pokemon Sword & Shield with very little knowledge or experience.
The first thing that surprised me about this game was the world design: the new Galar region is heavily inspired by Great Britain and the different influences of British culture and lifestyle is seen throughout the world. The dialogue is heavily centered around British slang and we see ‘mate’ slung around quite a bit, with your rival even saying he’s “absolutely cream crackered” which I’ll admit made me laugh. What made the game really enjoyable for me was that it reminded me a lot of my childhood through the design of the villages, towns and cities as well as the countryside.
There is no national Pokedex in this game, meaning that not every Pokemon from every game appear in Galar. However, being a relatively new player to the franchise, the absence of a lot of Pokemon didn’t really faze me all that much. There are still over 400 Pokemon throughout both Sword and Shield, and it was exciting that I could learn about all the ones that were new to me: my favourite Pokemon ended up being Lucario, a fighting type from generation 4. Even though they were already introduced in previous games, I got to experience all of these Pokemon for the first time which was refreshing (unless they were from the Kanto Region, otherwise I already knew about them).
The gym battles were also interesting, and the inclusion of gym challenges made the gyms stand out much more than the ones I faced during Pokemon Let’s Go! Pikachu. Instead of just beating trainers up until you fight the gym leader, this time there were gym challenges which served as puzzles, requiring more skill to go through than simply battling multiple gym trainers before a final standoff with the gym leader. I had a fun time herding Wooloo (the sheep of the Galar region) into goals, as well as traversing through an ice rink using sensors to detect cracks and holes in the ice, and many of the other gym challenges were also engaging. I do wish that these gym challenges were a bit more difficult, but as the game is aimed at a mix of older fans and new, young fans I could see why making the game a bit easier was necessary.
The plot intrigued me as well, and made sense within the established story of the Galar region. The main cast were fleshed out and overall were solid characters: your character’s rival, Hop, was irritating at the beginning as he kept bringing up things I already knew, but later on in the game his character develops into a somewhat decent one. My only big complaint in this regard were the main ‘bad guy’ team, known as Team Yell; all this group does is cheer on a rival trainer named Marnie and try to battle you to let her win the Pokemon League. I felt like Team Rocket were a much better example of how a main antagonistic team should be presented.
My favourite feature was hands down the camping activity. Essentially, at any point in the game that you’re free-roaming Galar, you can set up a campsite. In your little camp, the six Pokemon on your team run around and interact and play with each other, and you can even play with them using toys which allow you to grow your relationship with your Pokemon. This feature reminded me a lot of my old Nintendogs games on the Nintendo DS, and gave me a bit of a nostalgia trip in that regard. There is also the cooking feature which allows you to cook various curries and feed your Pokemon, with over 150 curries to cook to fill out your Currydex. You are rewarded for filling out your Currydex with various toys that you can use in your camp. Camping is a lot of fun and I found myself using the feature a lot more than I think it was intended to be used, but I enjoyed playing with my Pokemon and building friendships with them.
Overall, Pokemon Sword & Shield are incredible fun and have sparked a newfound love for the Pokemon games in me.